David Freeborn answered on 27 Jun 2013:
Very nearly everything in the Universe is made from atoms. To understand pretty much anything of life, we need to understand the structure of atoms and the particles that they are made from. Getting a better understanding of atoms is pretty important for just about everything.
It’s also useful if we want a scientific theory to unify all the forces of nature. Such a theory of everything is the ultimate mission of science. We could, in principle, use that theory to predict anything in the Universe. I am working with one of these four forces, the strong force, and trying to understand it better. That’s a big step towards a single Grand Unified Theory, and it might help us understand a Quantum Theory of Gravity too.
My field of work has lots of applications, and it’s hard to predict what future new ones there might be. The World Wide Web was developed by physicists working at CERN, in the office just below where I often work.
Jack Miller answered on 27 Jun 2013:
My work’s an example of interdisciplinary science — science that spans the divisions that you’re introduced to in secondary school. What I do is quantum mechanics…in a hospital. There are many things in living systems that we just don’t understand, or haven’t even discovered yet — and they’re often quite hard problems. People like me, who traditionally wouldn’t have spoken to a doctor except when ill, are now being routinely employed to bring a different (more mathematical) perspective onto hard problems that can affect us all. This is a huge shift — both in terms of how science is funded, and in terms of how we approach problems.
I think it’s definitely a step forward. There’s an awful lot to be said for the ‘physicist’s approach’ to solving problems, and it’s now only starting to be practical to apply them to living systems. I can really make a difference to the understanding of diseases, and to their treatment — and I’d like to stay in the field for that very reason.
In fact, I’ve actually been told by one of my cardiologist colleagues that he wishes more physicists would do what I’m doing and help them in medicine — we can make a big difference!
Hope that helps,
Dave Farmer answered on 27 Jun 2013:
Hi Josh, the key advantage using polymer materials for the research I do is that they’re cheap and easy to make things from. If I can get my structures doing what I want them to, there is the potential for them to revolutionise or replace how certain types of technology are made.
We’re also pushing the size limits with these structures, down to nanometres. Getting to these sorts of sizes means that we can start to really play around with light and sound in interesting ways, and possibly create whole new structures that control both simultaneously.